08/11/2008 11:00PM

Armata is top new trainer in town


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The second half of the Woodbine meeting is just beginning, but it would appear that trainer Will Armata is well on his way to clinching the unofficial "rookie of the year" award.

Armata, 26, took out his trainer's license on April 23 and won his first race one week later, with his second starter, Astera, who he owns under his nom du course of All Day Racing Stable.

Heading into Thursday's card Armata had won with 8 of 37 starters at Woodbine and 4 of 14 at Fort Erie, the latest being Sunday Prince in a $10,000 maiden claimer there Monday.

Armata has a secondary string of five horses at Fort Erie but the heart of his operation is here at Woodbine, where he has seven horses.

Sadly, Armata lost one of his favorites last week when his Very Professional, a 10-year-old gelding that had been in the entries for last Thursday's card, died of an apparent heart attack.

"I was grazing him and he suddenly went up in the air, and landed head first," said Armata. "We knew he was gone."

Very Professional, claimed for $10,000 here in September 2006, won five races last year, including four in a row for Armata with his father, Vito Armata, as the trainer of record.

Moving forward, Armata should be looking for his first stakes winner here Sunday as he plans to enter both Bold Corky and La Gran Emma in the $125,000 Victoriana, a 1 1/16-mile turf race for Ontario-sired fillies and mares.

Armata owns Bold Corky and La Gran Emma in partnership with the Rainbow Stable of Andy and Jean Vecchiarelli.

Bold Corky, claimed for $12,500 here last July, opened her current campaign with back-to-back allowance victories, then finished fourth in the restricted Ballade Stakes.

In her last appearance, Bold Corky was a closing third in a second-level optional claiming race over 1 1/16 miles.

La Gran Emma, claimed for $11,500 here last September, won a restricted first-level allowance over 1 1/16 miles in her second start this season.

A 4-year-old, as is Bold Corky, La Gran Emma is heading into the Victoriana off a second-place finish against second-level Ontario-sired opponents at 1 1/16 miles.

"They're both training very well," said Armata. "I really didn't want to run them together, but I entered La Gran Emma in a nonwinners-of-three on Wednesday which didn't go."

Bold Corky will be making her first start on turf in the Victoriana while La Gran Emma finished a closing third over one mile in her first try for Armata on the grass.

"I know I'm taking a shot with Bold Corky, but she came out of her last race extremely well," said Armata, adding that he could have waited for the $125,000 Algoma, a 1o1/16-mile yearling sales stakes for fillies and mares here Sept. 1.

"And when La Gran Emma ran on the grass a mile was too short for her. She came flying.

"I think we might be able to get some black type."

Armata's entire outfit consists of horses acquired via claiming. His latest acquisition, La Gran Germaine, was claimed for $11,500 last Sunday and is the fourth Ontario-sired horse that Armata has taken from Fieldstone Farm this season.

"I mostly focus on Ontario-sired horses," Armata. "I find the competition is a bit softer than if you're open, and there's a lot of good money available."

Sky Conqueror on road back

Sky Conqueror, who hadn't made the workout tab since May 21, breezed three furlongs in 39 seconds here on Sunday as he gears up for a second time for his 2008 debut.

"He was a work or two away when he grabbed his quarter real bad," said Darwin Banach, who trains Sky Conqueror for owner/breeder Bill Sorokolit.

"He's coming along nicely now."

Sky Conqueror, a 6-year-old horse, won last year's Grade 2, $750,000 Northern Dancer over 1 1/2 miles on turf when the race was contested in July.

This year, the Northern Dancer has been elevated to Grade 1 status and is on the same card as the Grade 1, $1 million Woodbine Mile and Grade 2, $300,000 Canadian Stakes here on Sept. 7.

"He might be ready to run by then, but I don't know if he'll be ready to run in the Northern Dancer," said Bananch. "Going a mile and a half, against those horses, is a pretty tall order."

Sky Conqueror, Canada's champion turf horse in 2006, was runner-up behind Cloudy's Knight in the Sovereign Award turf horse balloting last year.

Eccentric done for the year

Eccentric, who also was a Sovereign Award finalist in the turf division last year, has been sent to the farm and will not race again this season.

"He had little bits of wear and tear, all over the place," said Roger Attfield, who has trained Eccentric for owner Gary Tanaka since 2006.

"He wasn't coming back the way we wanted him to, so we just stopped on him."

Eccentric, a 7-year-old gelding, has won 13 races and $844,899 in a career that includes starts in England, Sweden, Japan, Dubai, Canada, and the United States.

Last year, Eccentric won three stakes here, including the Grade 2 King Edward against Sky Conqueror and subsequent Arlington Million winner Jambalaya.

Last year's Arlington Million still stands as the last start for Jambalaya, who was winning his second Grade 1 of the season but did not make the three starts in Canada necessary for Sovereign Award consideration.

Jambalaya, whose comeback already has been derailed on a couple of occasions, returned to light training here last week.